One in 15 older teens have carried or used a weapon in the past year, says study

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One in 15 older teenagers have carried or used a weapon in the past year, a new study suggests.

Analysis of data from more than 13,000 17-year-olds in 2018/19 found that 6.4% said they had carried or used a weapon in the previous 12 months, compared to 3.7% of 14-year-olds.

Boys were twice as likely as girls to say that they had done so. (8.8% compared to 3.9%)

The information came from the UK Millennium Cohort Study that is following the lives of thousands of children who were born in the home nations in 2000-02.

Authors of the latest study, from University College London, said that a number of other behaviours and life events were associated with an increased likelihood of having carried a weapon.

These included high levels of time spent playing computer games, substance use, mental health problems and being excluded from school.

In childhood, the risk factors included witnessing domestic abuse between parents, living in poverty and behavioural issues and hyperactivity between the ages of three and 11.

Data for this study came from 13,277 teenagers in 2018/19.

The authors said a range of factors were associated with teenagers who had carried or used a weapon in the previous 12 months, including “use of substances at age 14, having peers who use multiple substances at age 14, being excluded from school between age 11 and 14”.

They found that while teenagers who spent a lot of time gaming were 1.7 times more likely to say they had carried or used a weapon, it was not clear whether one caused the other.

The report said: “While it is possible that aggression and violence, which feature in some electronic games, affects those who play, it is also plausible that those who choose to play violent games excessively are a selective group with preferences which also make them more likely to engage in offending behaviours.

“As we are unable to control for these unobserved preferences, the finding in the current study should therefore be treated with caution.

Knife Crime stock
Boys were twice as likely to carry a weapon than girls (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

“This is an area for future research, given large increases in gaming in recent years.”

Teenagers who had been excluded from school between the age of 11 and 14 were 1.5 times more likely to say they had carried or used a weapon; those who had used alcohol or drugs by age 14 were 1.2 times more likely and those whose friends used alcohol and drugs at 14 were 1.6 times more likely.

Those who had carried or used a weapon were also more likely to have committed other crimes, including assault, shoplifting, car theft and criminal damage.

They were 10 times more likely to say that they had been in a gang – 26 per cent compared to 2.5 per cent of teens who had not carried or used a weapon.

They were also 10 times more likely to have engaged in neighbourhood crime, such as breaking and entering, stealing from others, or vehicle theft (20% compared to 1.8%); seven times more likely to have committed criminal damage and arson (51% compared to 6.8%), and two and a half times more likely to have committed assault (66% compared to 25%).

About a third, 36%, of those who had carried or used a weapon had engaged in 10 or more offences in the past year, compared to 3.5% of those who had not.

There was no evidence that ethnic minority groups were more likely to have carried or used a weapon than white teenagers.

The study concluded: “Strategies in childhood should target low family income, domestic abuse between parents, and child conduct problems.

“In adolescence, the focus should be on adolescent mental health, substance use, peer substance use, and school exclusion.

“Policies to help improve children’s lives earlier on may reduce the need for later intervention during adolescence as risk factors identified in childhood appear to be linked to weapon carrying or use through risk factors in the teenage years.”

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